The Importance of Professionalism in Family Law
While the guidance contained herein applies specifically to the turbulent and emotional practice of family law, the considerations of professionalism and civility discussed also apply more broadly to all areas of legal practice.
Manage Client Expectations
Setting realistic expectations with new clients is essential for providing competent legal representation and encouraging cooperative interaction between parties and attorneys. Every family law matter involves complex and ongoing relationships between individuals. This highly emotional practice area requires you to engage in a balancing act — you must show empathy for your client, but you must also remind your client of any weaknesses in their case and explain the unpredictability of litigation outcomes.
By informing your client up front of the risks and challenges posed by their case, your client can make an educated decision of whether or not to settle. It will also save you the trouble of dealing with a disappointed client who received an unfavorable result at trial. While I cannot imagine there was any gentle way for Kelly Clarkson’s attorney to inform her client that she must pay nearly $200,000 per month in alimony and child support, discussing all potential outcomes, being realistic, and never overpromising will help you develop a successful attorney-client relationship. Put simply, honesty with your client, honesty with opposing counsel, and honesty with the court are always the best policies.
Refer to the Applicable Statutes
As family law professionals, Chapter 61 of the Florida Statutes is our bread and butter. The trial judge will refer to the relevant statutes before, during, and after trial, and your client needs to be apprised of what the black letter law provides. Clients often walk into our offices with a fanciful notion that they have a “winning” case, but compelling facts are not always enough to prevail.
As an advocate, it is easy to become immersed in your client’s story. You have built trust with your client, you have talked your client off the ledge before, and you are invested in your client’s success. Nonetheless, you cannot lose perspective of the basic law controlling the outcome of the case. You must be well versed in any binding decisional law, and you must explain the applicable legal standards to your client. Keeping your client informed will help your client set achievable objectives and make cost-effective decisions on what litigation strategies to pursue.
Prioritize Mental Health and Wellness
The practice of law is emotionally draining, and as family lawyers, we also deal with the emotions, stress, and broken relationships that come along with domestic relations matters. We can all think of a time when we snapped at someone because we were hungry, sleep deprived, or overwhelmed. It is neither sustainable nor healthy to practice family law without giving due care and attention to your own needs.
Check in with yourself. Did you skip lunch today? Did you go home and check emails all night instead of spending time with your loved ones? Do you need to unplug for a weekend because the previous week was traumatic? You should aim to do at least one positive thing for yourself every day. Take a 20-minute walk, cook your favorite comfort food, watch a movie, or call a friend to just say hello.
If there is one thing we learned this summer, it is that mental health and well-being permeate every profession, every personality, and every person. When Simone Biles withdrew from the team competition and various individual competitions during this year’s Olympic Games, it let the entire world know that even the greatest among us—even Olympians who sometimes appear to be superhuman—cope with mental health problems. Always remember that no client or case is worth sacrificing your health, your sanity, or your law license. Start prioritizing your well-being because to take care of others, you must first take care of yourself.
Iman Zekri is a divorce, marital and family law attorney at Henderson, Franklin, Starnes & Holt, P.A. Iman is an alumna of Florida Gulf Coast University and the University of Florida Levin College of Law.